* Ερευνήτρια στο Κέντρο Μεσογειακών, Μεσανατολικών και Ισλαμικών Σπουδών
The legal framework in a nutshell 
One of the questions that Public International Law had to deal with from early in its history is that of humanitarian intervention. Analysts have been arguing on whether the necessity to intervene or the prohibition of Use of Force along with the principle of state sovereignty prevails in case of gross human rights abuse. The question remains: are states allowed and possibly obliged to take coercive action against a well-functioning State that threatens peace and commits crimes against its population? After various instances in which inaction brought terror (like Rwanda) and action questioned its legality (Kosovo), Koffi Annan asked UN Member what the answer should be when state sovereignty is an obstacle towards human rights protection. International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) was then established with the goal of giving a definite response. Responsibility to Protect (R2P) emerged in 2001.
R2P is a norm in a foetal state, introducing a crack to the principle of non-intervention. It authorizes international community to interfere as a last resort towards protecting human rights, when the state in turmoil is unwilling or otherwise unable to prevent the violations. Its application has shown the will of international community to also interfere in cases when the state itself is committing the violations. R2P doctrine is a complex legal concept, comprising of three interconnected and distinct forms of responsibility: to prevent, to react and to rebuild. Relevant for the case in question is the responsibility to react that comes in many forms, such as economic and judicial measures; intervention is pointed out as the most extreme of all measures that has to be considered after the failure of all the least coercive alternatives.
Applying the rules of R2P in the form of responsibility to react in Libya  and Syria -spot the difference.
In order for military intervention to be legitimate, the case, moreover, needs to be exceptional. For that to happen, ICISS posed six threshold criteria, so as to ensure that resort to force remains exceptional and draw a fine line between intervening and safeguarding state sovereignty. These criteria are the just cause, right intention, to be a measure of last resort, the means to be proportional, the mission to have reasonable prospects and the decision to be made by the right authority (an authority that has the right to mandate an intervention). These criteria are employed for an answer to be given to the question of WHEN is it right to act. Let us apply the above criteria to the cases of Libya and Syria: ICISS declares that if there is “large scale loss of life or “ethnic cleansing”” then the condition of just cause is prima facie met. In both cases there has been a large scale of fatality, along with hysterical statements by Qaddafi, calling rebels “cockroaches” and vows by Assad that he will restore order by "hitting terrorists (aka rebels) with an iron fist". Hence, the cause of intervention was (in case of Libya) and would be (Syria) just. Accordingly, the goal of an intervention would be to save endangered lives, thus the intention was and would be the right one. Given the previous attempts that have been made for 4 months in Libya and for more than a year in Syria for a ceasefire, it goes without saying that there is nothing else to be done. Military action when decided in Libya seemed to be standing reasonable chances of effectiveness. In any instance, the same seems to be true for Syria. For the means to be proportional, a mandate needs to be decided. Hence, it is easy to say that although vague, the imposition of a no-fly zone in the case of Libya is proportionate to the large-scale loss of life. The same analysis cannot be applied to Syria, but it can be easily said that the criterion could be met, if the means employed were (e.g) the imposition of a safe-haven, or a no-fly zone.
What basically differs is the lack of unanimity in the forum conveniens for that decision to be made. As the international community is structured today, the decisive power for taking coercive action remains the UN Security Council. In order for such a decision to be taken, all its permanent members should either vote for or abstain from voting. Otherwise the decision is blocked (vetoed). The latter is the case with Syria. Russia and China have already vetoed twice the Resolution that called for Assad to withdraw from power. The reasons behind these countries’ decision to veto the Resolution are apparently not of a legal nature, but realpolitik and differ for the two countries. Russia has been an ally of Syria (along with Iran), while China keeps vetoing resolutions that ask for coercive action. The question that remains unanswered is if there is any alternative international organ that, given the SC deadlock, can mandate military intervention in Syria. The primary obligation lies within SC. However, there could be alternative options in the extreme case the massacre continues. ICISS itself proposed for that role the General Assembly. It calls for a large majority of States proposing the intervention, similar to that of two-thirds in “Uniting for Peace” for the intervention to be legitimate. Towards that direction, but with the apparent lack of willingness to contravene the “heavy” veto of SC, General Assembly voted for the (non-binding) resolution 66/253, backing up Arab’s League Plan. A further solution could be that of action taken through regional organizations. Article 52 of the Charter has been interpreted so as to allow for collective action to be mandated through regional organizations. Although prior authorization by UN seems to be necessary, pursuant to the Charter, there could and should be a legitimate alternative in case of a deadlock by SC veto. Specifically, in the case of Syria, intervention could be decided and authorized by Arab League, had it got the guts to go against SC members’ will.
There simply cannot be any easy conclusion regarding the situation of a country in the Middle East. However, some thoughts can be given instead of a proper conclusion. Firstly, it is more than obvious that the reasoning behind the inaction is not legal. The situation in Syria, along with the one in Libya could easily be taken as textbook examples of crises in which international community should have responded according to the new R2P doctrine. However that was not the case with any of the two. And although the situation in Libya provided a textbook example of the necessity to react, the mandate and its implementation failed to do the same, seriously undermining state sovereignty, as to the way it was applied, along with democracy on the international arena. Intervention in Libya took more time and more lives than it should have and gave birth to a civil war, that followed the death of Colonel Qaddafi. It is obvious that the undertaking proved to be at least problematic. Syria on the other hand shows how inaction can be dreadful for peace and human rights. So there cannot be an easy solution or a general rule on how international community should reply if such a case arises. Intervention pursuant to ICISS rules of R2P is the only available option. However it remains to be considered how action should be taken. And the recent lessons taken from Libya answer on the question “how action should not be taken”. It should not be forgotten that intervention, as an exemption to the general prohibition of Use of Force, needs to be absolutely limited to the mandate. Thus the mandate has to be as clear and precise as possible, asking for specific actions heading towards a specific goal. As the recent history in Libya has shown, the dangers behind acting might be even greater than just looking. Consider a child having pneumonia. Not going to a doctor is not an option. But on the contrary giving the wrong medicine, or the right one in the wrong dosage, might end up being fatal.
All links accessed on 08/04/2012
 For more information about the R2P doctrine see also: Bellamy, A.J. “Whither the Responsibility to Protect? Humanitarian Intervention and the 2005 Summit”, Ethics and International Affairs, vol. 20, num. 2 (2006); Bellamy, A.J., Responsibility to Protect: The Global Effort to stop mass atrocities: Policy Press, 2009; Evans, G, The Responsibiility to Protect, Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All: The Brookings Institution, 2008
 See, generally, Lowe , Vaughan and Tzanakopoulos, Antonios “Humanitarian Intervention”, in Rudlger Wolfrum (ed) Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law: OUP, 2010; Alston, Philip and MacDonald, Euan, (eds) Human Rights, Intervention, and the Use of Force: OUP, 2008; Brownlie, Ian, International Law and the Use of Force by States: OUP, 1963
 See i.a. Gray, Christine, International Law and the Use of Force: OUP, 2008
 Kelsen, Hans, Principles of International Law: Lawbook Exchange, 2003
 For some of the early discussion on the matter see Lillich, Richard, Humanitarian Intervention and the United Nations: The University Press of Virginia, 1973.
 Adelman, Howard and Suhrke, Astri (eds) The path of a genocide: The Rwanda crisis from Uganda to Zair: Transaction Publishers, 1999; Kuperman, Alan J, The limits of Humanitarian Intervention: Genocide in Rwanda: Brookings, 2001; Prunier, Gerard, The Rwanda Crisis: History of a genocide: Columbia University Press, 1997
 Independent International Commission on Kosovo, The Kosovo Resport: OUP, 2000; Murphy, S.D, “Contemporary Practice of the United States Relating to International Law, Humanitarian Intervention in Kosovo”, American Journal of International Law vol. 93, num 1 (1999) 161
 Annan, Koffi, Millenium Report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, March 2000
 For all the information regarding R2P Doctrine see ICISS, The Responsibility to Protect: International Development Research Centre, 2001
 For the events referred to in Libya Keesing’s Record of World Events (2011) is being used
 For an updated timeline of the events referred to in Syria, see AlJazeera, “Interactive: Timeline of Syria unrest” (29/01/2012) http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2012/02/201225111654512841.html
 (along with the recent deal asking for a ceasefire before the 10th of April)
 About these countries votes in Libya’s case explained see See Bellamy, Alex J. and Williams, Paul D. , “The new politics of protection? Cote d’ Ivoire, Libya and the Responsibility to Protect” International Affairs, vol 87 (2011), 825
 According to ICISS (op. cit.), “Security Council should be the first port of call on any matter relating to military intervention for human protection purposes”
 UN General Assembly, Uniting for Peace, 3 November 1950, A/RES/377
 UN General Assembly, The situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, (Agenda item 34: Prevention of armed conflict), 16 February 2012, A/66/L.36
 Nothing in the present Charter precludes the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action provided that such arrangements or agencies and their activities are consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.
The Members of the United Nations entering into such arrangements or constituting such agencies shall make every effort to achieve pacific settlement of local disputes through such regional arrangements or by such regional agencies before referring them to the Security Council.
The Security Council shall encourage the development of pacific settlement of local disputes through such regional arrangements or by such regional agencies either on the initiative of the states concerned or by reference from the Security Council.
This Article in no way impairs the application of Articles 34 and 35.
See also, ICISS (op.cit.), 53 and Simma, Bruno, The Charter of the United Nations: A commentary: 2nd Edn, OUP, 2002
 For an explanation of what does the mandate allow for see Akande, Dapo, “What does UN Security Council Resolution 1973 permit?”, Blog of EJIL, 23 March 2011, http://www.ejiltalk.org/what-does-un-security-council-resolution-1973-permit/